Interpretation of local bye-laws proved a significant touchpaper to the Peace Day riots in Luton on July 19th, 1919.
Breaking the news of the Town Council's refusal to allow Wardown Park to be used for a Luton branch of a National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers Drumhead Memorial Service on Sunday, July 20th, the Saturday Telegraph of July 12th said: "A regrettable difference has arisen between the discharged soldiers and the Town Council of Luton."
It then printed the correspondence that had passed between the DS&S and Town Clerk William Smith between July 5th and 10th over an application to use the park.
A reporter who approached the Town Clerk was told "very emphatically that the bye-laws of the Council did not permit of Wardown Park being used for that or any other service, for the Park was not for any particular section of the community at any time. In view of a letter from the Association and the fact that the matter will be before the Council on Tuesday night, further comment here is unnecessary".
A letter from the DS&S and signed by its 16-strong committee was also printed. It read: "Through the medium of your valuable paper we beg to place before the public the manner in which we have been dealt by the local authorities in the matter of our memorial service to our fallen brothers.
"The suggestion to hold such a service originated in the first place at one of our general meetings, when the members decided to invite the clergy to attend a conference for the purpose of considering the best means of making such an appropriate service a real success.
"We have had their whole-hearted sympathy and support. Consequently, we proceeded to make the necessary arrangements.
"Wardown, as a public rendezvous, was considered to be a most suitable place to pay homage to those who have made the supreme sacrifice.
"In reply to an official application for the use of Wardown, we were staggered to receive a blunt refusal, signed by the Town Clerk on behalf of the Council. Thinking the Council had misinterpreted our request, we sought an interview with the Council's representative but were promptly refused a hearing.
"The following morning, July 11th, we received a written confirmation of their refusal, again signed on behalf of the Council.
"We have good reason to believe the application was never in Council. And even if it had been, is there any place too good in which to render such respect? Remember the sufferings of our heroes at the Somme, the horrors of Gallipoli, the terrors of the internment camps in Germany - sufferings in which we also shared.
"In appreciation of the valuable services of the men who so nobly gave their lives in order that the peace which we now look forward to should be a lasting one, we were generously (!!) offered the Moor or Pope's Meadow, while the [fairground] roundabouts etc are to be occupying the park, the day previous to that on which we wished to have it.
"We are cognisant of the public feeling in this matter; and the knowledge of this only accelerates our indignation at the treatment which is meted out to us by those who are entrusted with the task of making this England of ours worthy of our sacrifices.
Notwithstanding this opposition, we shall carry on, and cordially invite our appreciative public to join us at the service.
An official invitation to the local branch of the Comrades of the Great War has been forwarded to their Secretary, and it is sincerely hoped that they will co-operate with us on this memorable occasion.
Thanking you, sir, we are yours faithfully,
W. B. Clay (Chairman)
J. W. Hawkes (Vice-Chairman)
H. V. Hoy (Hon Treasurer)
H. V. Aylott
W. G. B. Aylott
S. J. Allison
H. J. Ball
W. J. Ellingham
E. A. Barton
S. T. Wheewall
A. H. Samms
H. Chas Cooper (General Secretary)."
An article on the Peace Day riots, written by Dr John Dony in 1978 for the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, suggested that the DS&S had possibly made a formal polite request on July 5th for the use of Wardown Park while thinking it was not necessary to seek permission in the case of a Drumhead service.
Dr Dony said the request may have presented the Town Clerk with a difficulty as the Town Council was not due to meet again until after the peace celebrations. With the nine-member Parks Committee also not due to meet, the only committee meeting to be held was that of the Tolls and Public Buildings Committee on Monday, July 7th. Six councillors who were on both committees were asked to stay behind to consider the request.
Those six councillors (not the whole council) decided not to allow the DS&S to use Wardown Park, a decision later reported to the Watch Committee which gave its silent approval to it.
As a result, the Town Clerk replied to the DS&S on July 8th: "I am empowered to authorise you to use the Moor or Pope's Meadow...and shall be glad to know as soon as possible which you may select. The Council are unable to permit you to use Wardown Park. The Council regret that it will be impractical for them to take part in your procession."
The bye-laws that proved the stumbling block were approved in August 1905 "with respect to the pleasure grounds known as Wardown Park".
Clause 27: A person shall not deliver a public address in any part of the pleasure ground. Provided that the forgoing prohibition shall not apply in an case where, upon application to the Council for permission to deliver any public address in the pleasure ground, upon such occasion or on such day and at such hour as shall be specified in such application. The Council may grant such permission subject to compliance with such conditions as they may prescribe.
Clause 28: A person shall not play any musical instrument or sing in any part of the pleasure ground.
Dr Dony said exceptions to clause 28 were made of a similar nature to those provided for in clause 27. Bands and concert parties who performed frequently on the park bandstand were presumably allowed with the permission of the Council.
[Re Clause 27: In July 1917 the DS&S had been given permission to use the Wardown Bandstand for a fund-raising concert.]
[Saturday Telegraph, July 12th, 1915]
[The 1919 Peace Riot in Luton, article by Dr John Dony for the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 1978]
The Comrades of the Great War position over the refused use of Wardown was contained in a brief article in The Luton News of Thursday, July 31st, 1919.
That read: “We are desired to make it clear that the local branch of the Comrades of the Great War were not associated with the DS&S Federation in the request for Wardown Park for the memorial service. The position, we are informed, was this:
“The Comrades proposed to the DS&S Federation a joint memorial service, and found that the latter already had the arrangements well advanced. They therefore dropped the idea for the time being. Later, after Wardown was refused and the DS&S Federation publicly invited support at the services, the Comrades decided to do so.”